One of the NBA's most accomplished players, the Laker's Kobe Bryant, has been a controversial figure throughout most of his career. Through the course of his 15-plus year career, highlighted by 5 NBA titles, he has been dogged by on-court accusations of selfishness and petulance, and off-court problems, most notably a 1998 sexual assault trial in Colorado.
Bryant is a lighting-rod type player, and opinions about him are mostly clear and starkly divided. He is, to use the cliche, a player you either love or hate. If you love him, it's for his single-minded focus and competitiveness, his intense drive to succeed, and his pursuit of winning, although certainly on his terms. For those that can't stand Bryant, they usually point to his on-court domination of the ball, his seeming lack of respect for teammates not as talented as him, and a sort of general 'unlikability' that makes him, at times, kind of difficult to cheer for. Bryant, as the best player on his team, and the de facto leader, has often had little patience or positive things to say about his own team mates that fail to live up to his standards and expectations.
And it's that last point, Bryant's unlikability that I want to call out, inspired by a recent little leadership manifesto of sorts, that Bryant posted on Facebook, and was reported on by the Pro Basketball Talk blog. Here's a piece of the Bryant message, with some comments, and really questions after the quote:
Sometimes you must prioritize the success of the team ahead of how your own image is perceived. The ability to elevate those around you is more than simply sharing the ball or making teammates feel a certain level of comfort. It’s pushing them to find their inner beast, even if they end up resenting you for it at the time.
I’d rather be perceived as a winner than a good teammate. I wish they both went hand in hand all the time but that’s just not reality.
Some interesting takes from the Mamba, (Bryant's self-designated nickname). In a hyper-competitive business, where the difference between winning and losing is razor-thin, and the window of opportunity for achieving the ultimate goal, winning championships, closes quickly, Bryant acknowledges that he views leadership and likeability as two mutually exclusive traits. In his view, you can do what it takes to lead, to inspire others to get the best out of themselves, and to put the team in the best place to win, OR, you can worry about being liked, and how you are perceived by the team, (and the public).
The Mamba is pretty clear on which approach works for him, and it is kind of hard to argue with both his personal and team success over the years. But reading his manifesto seems to engender a contradictory reaction - Bryant sounds kind of mean, petty, and yes, almost completely unlikeable.
Which I suppose is the real question - can you be a true and successful leader and not be willing to point out in very clear terms the shortcomings you might see in the team?
Can you be a great leader and worry about how you are perceived?
If you want to win in a competitive game should you worry at all about being likeable?